When an angry mob of students take over a college campus, the unruly pupils aren’t solely to blame. Administrators are culpable too.
That’s the argument Joanna Williams makes in a piece published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Williams, an academic and author of “Academic Freedom in
an Age of Conformity,” writes campus leaders are a major force behind the tribalism that defines campus activism these days.
“Today, students are encouraged by faculty and administrators to identify as members of a racial group and to see racial inequality as pervasive,” she writes.
Williams asserts this encouragement comes in multiple forms such as biased reading lists, mandatory diversity training and efforts to “decolonize” curriculum. That’s not all.
From the article:
Furthermore, many students are taught a curriculum (particularly in social science and humanities courses) premised upon a postmodernism that eschews “any notion of objectivity, perceiving knowledge as a construct of power differentials rather than anything that could possibly be mutually agreed upon.” This lends itself to teaching that privileges subjective experiences and personal feelings above objective debate and rational inquiry.
As a result, students are not able to leave their personal circumstances at the door of the classroom and tackle ideas as intellectual equals. Instead, their subjective feelings, drawn from their identity, become an undisputed source of evidence. The more oppressed the speaker, the more respected their response.
Williams argues such teaching “confuses politics and education” at the risk of casting aside the ideal of knowledge.
“The politicized classroom becomes a confessional for white students to admit to their inherent guilt and a psychiatrist’s couch for black students to share experiences of victimhood,” she writes.
Williams notes the seemingly endless cycle of campus protests is not a new phenomenon, pointing out the long history of student racial activism. However, Williams writes the current movement has a different agenda:
There are, however, great differences between today’s student protests and those of yesteryear. Most significantly, previous generations rejected segregation and aspired towards racial equality. Many of today’s protests, on the other hand, seem to rehabilitate demands for segregation.
In 1960, students in Atlanta campaigned for an end to segregated lunch counters; in 2017 students demand segregated safe spaces and accommodation blocks. California State University, Los Angeles, has separate living accommodation for African-American students, while the University of Connecticut has established a “living-learning community” specifically for black male students.
For Williams, colleges and universities are a big reason for this shift in priorities.
“Higher education has moved from promoting universal liberal humanist values to creating a racialized environment where students are supported and encouraged to judge each other according to race and see shared communication as risking racial microaggressions,” she concludes.